By Bolaji Akinola
Since his assumption of office as Transportation Minister about eight months ago, Rotimi Amaechi has attended up to 10 maritime industry events, mostly seminars and conferences. I had the opportunity of being at some of those events with the most recent being the two-day stakeholders conference on repositioning the maritime industry for sustainable growth organized by the Federal Ministry of Transportation in Lagos.
One thing stands Amaechi out at every one of the events – he always arrived on time. Indeed ahead of time!
English playwright, William Shakespeare, once said better three hours too soon than a minute late. In Nigeria where the general attitude to time-keeping is often the opposite of that, Amaechi’s promptness is worthy of recognition and emulation.
Cases of a government minister keeping members of the public waiting, a friend turning up late for a date or a judge holding up court proceedings have become the norm rather than the exception in our country.
Amaechi’s attitude to time is the direct opposite of his predecessor’s who kept people waiting for hours at events. I got so peeved with Senator Idris Umar’s lack of respect for time I wrote an article on it in August 2013.
For instance, the 2011 World Maritime Day celebration was scheduled to hold at 10am that fateful day, Tuesday 27th September, 2011 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but it did not start until about 3pm.
Several dignitaries, including chief executives of various government agencies and their retinue of aides arrived the venue in good time. The then State Deputy Governor, Engr. Tele Ikuru, had also come in but had to leave after waiting in vain for a while. Yours sincerely also waited (im)patiently.
Our Chief Host and then Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, had kept us all – his loyal subjects – waiting. He kept us waiting for five hours and, wait a minute, …eventually failed to show up!
The story then was that he missed his 9am flight and the next available flight was 11am. And we waited and waited. The organisers of the event quickly hired a comedian who turned the otherwise serious business gathering to a comedy show.
At about 3pm, a representative of the Minister sauntered into the hall apologising on his behalf.
In June 2012, Nigeria hosted the 35th Council Meeting/11th Round Table of the Ports Management Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA) in Lagos. It was an international event by all standards and Minister Umar was scheduled to perform the opening ceremony on 25th June 2012 at 10am.
The magnificent hosting put up by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was almost marred by the Transport Minister’s habitual lateness as he failed to show up in good time at the Opening Ceremony. Our Minister kept the international maritime community waiting for over two hours just to come and declare the event open.
Sometimes in August 2013, Umar was scheduled to perform the flag-off ceremony of the evacuation of containers from the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa by rail. The event was scheduled to kick-off at 10.30am. Again, Minister Umar kept everyone of us waiting. Three hours later, the then Chairman of the Board of Nigerian Railway Corporation, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, arrived and was announced as representative of the Minister.
I am also aware of several instances where journalists were asked to meet the former Minister in some place for either a press briefing or facility tour and the journalists were kept waiting for hours.
Idris Umar fully personified the concept of Nigerian time – a jargon that describes an average Nigerian’s lack of respect for time. This concept has gradually become a monster, assuming a life of its own.
But Minister Rotitmi Amaechi is different. He arrived clear five minutes ahead for his first major public interaction with maritime stakeholders in Lagos early this year. He also arrived about ten minutes ahead for a conference organized by the Association of Marine Engineers in Lagos sometimes in April. I was the Master of Ceremony at an international conference on port state control at Four Points By Sheraton Hotel in Lagos on March 7. Amaechi was the declare to conference open at 10am. At exactly two minutes to the time, he walked briskly in and the event started.
On May 16 and 17, the Federal Ministry of Transportation hosted a maritime stakeholders conference to develop roadmap for the maritime sector. On the first day, Amaechi as Special Guest arrived with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the Chairman of the event, at exactly two minutes to the 10am scheduled time. As the Master of Ceremony, I was so delighted with this attitude and I pointed it out in my introductions. He received a standing ovation from the participants. The following day, we were to resume at 9am. Amaechi arrived five minutes before. We had to wait for about forty minutes for other participants and delegates to arrive. It was the first time I would see a Minister wait for people in Nigeria. It had always been the other way round. I think this is part of the change that we all voted for.
In other countries, it might not be anything but in Nigeria, it is big deal. So disturbing is the concept of Nigerian time (or African time) that we, as Nigerians, must act quickly to rid ourselves of this cloak of tardiness that has blanketed us as a people from time immemorial. Nigerian Time has been the source of many embarrassing moments for this country. It has become the butt of many jokes. We must all emulate Amaechi in keeping to time.